The social Matrix

The social Matrix

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Global Hunger--50 Cent Road to Mogadishu

 I never thought 50 cent would return to Africa after he his gold chain was stolen while on stage in Angola. But he came back. This time he visited Somalia. He came a few weeks ago to help solve hunger in a desolate famined environment. Last week rapper 50 cent made a trip to Somalia to help those in need. Curtis Jackson, also known as 50 cent, said he plans to provide one billion meals to those who suffer from hunger. However, as horrible as it may be, Somalia is just a microcosm of a global epidemic that is only getting worse. Unless a comprehensive solution is applied to a multi-faceted problem than food insecurity will not end.

Feeding The World 

The concern over hunger became an issue in the aftermath of world war two in 1943 when the Food and Agricultural Organization was created under the United Nations. During the 50s and 60s food surpluses in America were delivered to countries with hunger problems under public law 480. In 1996 the world community came together and pledge to reduce hunger by half in twenty years by increasing food reserves.

It is estimated that over 800 million people  globally are afflicted with hunger due to poverty, war and natural conditions. Hunger is a greater threat than AIDs, Malaria and Turbclouisis combined. Each day 25,000 people die from hunger related problems. It is estimated that by 2025 Africa will reach 1.5 billion people and that it will only be able to feed 40 percent of its population. Currently it is estimated that close to 250 million people in Africa suffered from Hunger.

One of the most obvious problems associated with starvation is weight loss and malnutrition and that it deprives a person of the necessary nutrients for survival. In South Asia (43 percent) the percentage of underweight children is higher than in Sub-Sahara Africa (28 percent)    Although, weightloss is one of the main health risk as a result of hunger there are other risk as well including chronic disease, diabetes and some forms of cancers.

Causes of Hunger--The Environment

There are a number of factors that contribute to global hunger. One reason is because of environmental factors including soil erosion, air pollution, climate change. For example, there have been many enivormentally caused shocks in the supply of rice such as the drought in Australia , Cyclone Nagris in Myanmar, typhoons in the Philippines, Cold weather in Vietnam and flooding in Bangladesh. Pest and Insects have played a role as well. In Vietnam insects were responsible for eliminating 200,000 tons of rice.

Another major factor contributing to the loss of farmland and thus decreasing the food supply is urbanization and industrialization. Although this is migration trend is happening in Africa as well most of the poverty is concentrated in the hinterlands. In China, only 7 percent of arable land  and 22 percent of the total population land is quickly being converted for industrial use.  One example of this is the billion dollar highway constructed between Hong Kong and Guangzhou which has destroyed much farmland. In the past decade Japan China and Vietnam have have reduced the land used for rice by 1.5 percent, .67 percent, and .03 percent respectively.  During the same time, the amount of land for agriculture in Australia fell dramatically from 310,000 acres to 15,000 acres.

It is not just urbanization that is causing food shortages another problem that is often overlooked is the managment of crops after the harvest. Most farmers who specialize in rice have lost money because the technology used to dry rice and store it are outdated and inefficient. One Study found that in the Phillipines 33 percent of the crops is lossed because milling, drying and storage are not done properly.

   Still, many Chinese work in the agricultural sector and 15 percent of all land is used for cultivation. One way that China and other Asian countries have tried to manage the food crisis is by turning to seafood. As a result, edible forms of algae and sea weed have been created on fishfarms. Moreover, not all land is easily convertible for agricultural uses. For example, the tropical environment in Amazon makes farming difficult  because the tropical rain washes away fertilizer and the rainforest has few plant rich in nutrients.

Are you Thirsty? Want a sip? 

Nevertheless, in order for land to be used efficiently water has to be managed effectively. In China, seven percent of the country is wetlands that is readily available for agricultural purposes. According to the World Bank, many countries will run out of fresh water by 2025. The scarcity of water is most evident throughout the Middle East and North Africa. The World Bank estimates that by 2025 there will only be 667 cubic meters per person for water in the Middle East compared with 4,780 for a person worldwide. Countries in the Middle East such as Jordan and Israel that are heavily at dependent on fresh water for agriculture might have to look at other alternatives such as desalination, recycling waste water, and cutting back on irrigation. Only Egypt can compensate for the arid region from weather shocks because of the Nile River.

 In addition,water has been a major source of conflict  such as between Arab states and Israel over the Jordan river and between India and Bangladesh regarding the Ghanges river. In fact, it is the competition for scarce resources that has caused a shortage in food supplies. Many countries throughout Sub Sahara Africa have been afflicted by wars (Angola, Sierra Leone, Angola, and the Central Africa Republic) over natural resources.

A strong example of how war can cause mass starvation occurred to the Kurds during the Persian Gulf war. Although, to be fair many of the conflicts today are remnants of the cold war and did not come into fruition from an indigenous hatred

For example, it would be an insult to history if we were to blame the current crisis in Somalia on tribal rivalry while simultaneously ignoring the fact that the Russians have supplied Somalians with AK47s in the 80s to spread Soviet-style communism or that the United States gave $35 billion to the Somalian government for "lethal assistance" presumably to contain the spread of the Soviet Union.  Many countries throughout the Middle East are also responsible for fueling the flames of conflict in the horn of Africa as well.

It is within this chaotic environment, nurtured by anarchy that the U.S. humanitarian intervention in the early 90s failed miserably and that subsequent efforts to end starvation have been severely curtailed in Somalia.

While human conflict and the environment may play an important role in the prevalence of global hunger a bigger and more complicated factor is the interdependency of macroeconomics. According to the FAO in 2008 the world spent more than a trillion dollars on importing food which was more than $215 billion in the previous year. More importantly, the cost of food in many developing countries has increased by 40 percent.

One reason is because of the price of inputs have also increased. A study by the World Bank found that 35 percent of the increase in food prices can be attributed to rising fuel and pesticides cost. One controversial reason for the inflation of food is speculation.

The Commodity Controversy

The introduction of derivatives to the farming sector allowed farmers in the United States to be guaranteed a profit set before harvest based on stocks bonds and other financial instruments. This was harmful for the buyer because most of the risk associate with supply side shocks were absorbed by the buyer and not the seller.

 "According to the FAO’s 2011 report, only 2% of futures contracts for raw materials end with the actual delivery of the product. The other 98% are traded by speculators before their expiration date."
However, not everyone believes that speculation is responsible for inflation. Others believe that supply and demand are responsible for regulating price. Speculation of commodities has very little to do with the votality in the market:

"An OECD report suggests that there is little difference in volatility between exchange-traded agricultural commodities (such as wheat and corn) and non-exchange-traded ones (such as apples and onions)."

 The importation of food is detrimental to many developing countries because the largest sector of the economy is agriculture. The oversupply of food in the domestic market causes the wages for farmers to decrease. Even highly industrial countries like America are not immune to this problem. Specifically, The US goverment has played a large role solving this problem by buying surplus commodities,  and  production controls that influence the prices.

The Answer is not the Government 

However government is not always the panacea intervention has not always worked. This has been true for much of the Middle East such as Tunisia Iraq and Syria in modern history were the government used taxation to have a monopoly over agriculture and purchased agricutural goods at below market prices. Specifically, this occurred under the Sudanese Gezira Scheme were the government pocketed the difference.

 In addition, because farmers were burden by taxes they were less motivated to produce food to be exported which had a direct impact on the amount of foreign exchange accumulated. From 1970-1985 taxation in Egypt increased by 50-200 percent;

"Egyptian price policies not only robbed the country of the foreign exchange that it could have obtained through exporting cotton but also exacerbated the food gap by retarding wheat production."

Ironically, state-owned farmers in Sudan spent more time trying to obtain foreign exchange to purchase inputs for production than managing their farms.

  Also the issue becomes further complicated because most of the foreign exchange was used to benefit the military and industry and not farmers. The government's interference in the agricultural market has caused price instability and food shortages throughout the Middle East. The trend shifted once the market was allowed to determine prices rather than have it set by the government and family farms were in control of agriculture instead of collective units.

 The problem in food production cannot always be blamed on government involvement. In Africa where many are employed in the agricultural sector only 4.5 percent of the public expenditure is for the production of crops. Moreover Official Development Assistance (ODA), for agriculture has decreased by 15 percent in the last 40 years.

The Wonders of State Intervention 

While state intervention has been harmful in some areas of the world it has been helpful in others. For example, the Public Distribution System in Kerala India, a program that guarantees households "specific quantities of selected commodities with subsidized prices," has provided 31 million tonnes of foodgrain such as wheat and rice. In 1991 the PDS system distributed ration cards to cover 95 percent of households that couldn't rely on subsistence farming. In 2006 there were close to 220 million Indian households with ration cards.

Various government programs in both Tamil Nadu and Kerala protected the public from food insecurity. For example, the rate of malnutrition has declined dramatically from 1983 to 2000 from 12.3 percent to .3 percent as the result of state-run food programs.

   Again, Indian programs such as the Midday meal and the Integrated Child Development Scheme have been instrumental in curtailing the growing threat of food insecurity in the sub-continent. Although is far from solving its Hunger problems:

Regardless of the multiplicity of causes that contribute to the global epidemic of hunger there are a variety of options to solve the problem including maintaining strategic reserves, attracting foreign investment and improving infrastructure. Biotechnology, The technology has helped increase tolerance for environmental conditions such as droughts and salinity and  most notably the green revolution, that has led to higher yields of crops allow it is an expensive procedure. Another noteworthy solution is the Comprehensive for Action plan. Still, sometimes the solution can be simpler such as giving a voice to the poor and allowing them to choose what they need from a variety of options through a voucher system. According, to Erick Werker assistant professor at Harvard Business School NGOS tend to be more responsive to their donors rather than to the people they are serving.

I applaud 50 cent for taking the time to try to solve an issue that affect billions but many westerners take for granted--a warm meal. However, if celebrities like 50 cent really want to solve hunger than they need to understand how economic issues, environmental circumstances, and social conditions converge together to create this problem. One this takes place nobody will go to be on an empty stomach.

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